Social Distancing? You Might Be Fighting Climate Change, Too
As the nation shifts abruptly into the fight against coronavirus, a question arises: could social isolation help reduce an individual’s production of greenhouse gases and end up having unexpected consequences for climate change?
The biggest sources of carbon emissions caused by our lifestyles come from three activities, said Kimberly Nicholas, a researcher at the Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies in Sweden: “Any time you can avoid getting on a plane, getting in a car or eating animal products, that’s a substantial climate savings.” Many people trying to avoid the coronavirus are already two-thirds of the way there.
Christopher M. Jones, lead developer at the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the U.C. Berkeley Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, said that “all these extra precautions that schools and businesses are taking to keep people home are saving lives, and that’s clearly what’s most important.” Having said that, he added that many of the actions people are taking in response to the coronavirus outbreak could have a benefit of a reduced carbon footprint — though others would have little effect or could even expand it.
Here are four areas we may see changes in greenhouse gas emissions because of the coronavirus.
Transportation: Big Reductions
People are staying home and flying less. That’s good for the planet, Dr. Nicholas said. “For average Americans, the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions is driving,” she said. Anything that reduces driving, including working from home, “has a big impact on our climate pollution.” Avoiding air travel can have a large effect as well: one round-trip flight from New York to London, she said, produces as much greenhouse gas emissions as the preventive climate impact of nearly eight years of recycling. Dr. Nicholas was an author of a 2018 study that examines greenhouse gas emissions reductions in actions people take to fight climate change, and is currently writing a book about personal action and the climate crisis.